Oakland (Temescal) - La Calaca Loca – Chilaquiles, crispy fish tacos, Niman Ranch meat, pomegranate margarita & crazy-good pico de gallo
La Calaca Loca (the crazy skeleton) is currently making crazy-good pico de gallo ... maybe the best ever made.
The perfectly-ripe summer tomatoes, deeply flavored and colored, are a worthy match for the sweetest red onions, market-fresh cilantro and Mexican oregano, boosted by a shot of tart lime juice
The limes, yes the lowly limes, are champion.
Those limes make a mmm-mmm margarita (soju and triple sec). Pomegranate added pretty pink color rather than taste, a happy drink ($5).
Everything tastes fresh from a top farmers market. Fulton Valley Farms chicken, Niman Ranch pork and beef, and line-caught fish ... low prices ... who knew?
Those juicy, plump pieces of limes come with the fish tacos ($3.50). There are two versions ... beer-battered and grilled.
The default tortilla is regular flour. For 85 cents more there is a crispy taco version with guacamole, crema and queso. Any taco can be crispy-version.
This is the same owner of Nick’s Crispy Tacos. I haven’t tried Nick’s yet. NOT a durado (hard, deep-fried) shell, the thin outer tortilla is soft flour and cradles a crispy, light tortilla. The soft tortillas are ace.
At last, I get the lure of the fish taco.
The beer-battered Baja version was best, but don’t dismiss the grilled fish taco. The soft-tender coating clings to generous fresh fish which is on a bed of mild chopped cabbage. The thin, tangy-with-lime sauce that has a tartar sauce accent, makes the Baja taco addictive. The grilled version comes with another sauce.
Susansinsf ... chilaquiles is in the title for you ... so THIS is why chilaquiles without eggs are superior.
The egg here is not mixed into the house-made corn chips (choice of green or red salsa). The slightly spicy green tomatillo sauce, mixed with roasted green poblano chiles were muy bueno. Scrambled eggs were served on top and not mixed in. Ask for the eggs on a separate dish so not to adulterate the chilaquiles in any way.
They came with perfect whole pinto beans sprinkled with crumbly cojito and a dollop of crema fresca on the side. This trumps Montaro’s version ... and ... all this goodness ... this hearty breakfast ... for FIVE DOLLARS!!! ... one of the great breakfast deals.
Two squeeze bottles of salsa come on the side ... terrific thin avocado salsa verde with a touch of heat and a subtle creamy-looking red ... too subtle.
A little odd, the salt shaker had lots of grains of white rice in it.
The fresh-tasting guacamole on the crispy fish taco was mainly just mashed avocado. Warm house-fried corn chips waiting for take-out in bags sporting grease spots, were not too thin or not too thick. The important thing is they are a vehicle for that pico de gallo. No free chips. They are $1.
The salad looks like a stunner with wild, huge fried tortilla strips jutting out from all angles. The basic salad has romaine, corn, black beans, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and guacamole tossed with tomatillo vinaigrette ($4.25). With meat it is $6, with fish $6.50.
They sell ‘safe’ elote, corn on the cob slathered with mayo, rolled in crumbled queso fresco and sprinkled with chile ... for anyone too pollo to buy it from local street vendors.
The horchata spiced with some clove made it a thumbs down for me ... clove, ugh. There are three other jars of aqua fresca.
The rich, eggy flan had a piloncillo (cone-shaped Mexican brown sugar) syrup giving it an attention-getting molasses-like flavor.
The delicate Mexican wedding cookie, neglected in my purse, got pulverized on the trip home ... tasty cinnamon cookie crumbs though ... repeat ... delicate.
They also have tortilla soup, nachos (gotta get those next time), queso fundido, tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Meats include carne asada, chicken and carnitas. The EBE reviewer wasn’t wowed by the burritos.
There was a special written on the white board – jicama salad. They also have whole wheat tortillas available.
Breakfast is served on the weekends from 9 to 1. In addition to the chilaquiles there is a breakfast burrito, huevos with chorizo, huevos Mexicana and huevos rancheros.
Staff, mainly Latino (and not just for ambiance) is super. Whimsical décor details are in the EBE review. Welcome air conditioning on hot days and a few sidewalk tables. Good, not corny, Mexican music, the type many Latinos really listen to.
It just goes to shows not to stereo-type places. I avoided it because it looked too americanized. It is, just a pocito, in the best way ... with top-quality freshness.
Although the chips never took a swim in lard, even Niman Ranch lard, and the dishes are not loco-spicy, it stays true to its Mexican roots.
SF Chronicle mention:
East Bay Express Review
La Calaca Loca
5199 Telegraph Ave. (at 51st St ... across the street from Bakesale Betty’s
Mon.-Fri: 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Sat : 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Sun: 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Cafe Pippo next door (with note-worthy antipasti salads) has the same owner and shares some of the same staff. These people respect veggies.
An update ... I really didn't like the elote at all and wanted to note that this is nothing like most street versions which I prefer.
I tried to enjoy it for what it was, but couldn't because it was so out of balance and just plain sloppy.
First of all, I don't care what they say ... that was not mayo on that corn with was a white soupy something ... almost the consistancy of raita and the lime flavor was overwhelming, the chili underwhelming. The cojita was nice, but there was too much of it. There was just this big pool of sauce that the corn needed to be dipped in.
And, with all the great veggies I've had at La Calaca Loca, the corn wasn't even up to street vendor standards ... and this is the height of corn season.
Then they ask me if I wanted salsa with it ...salsa ... with elote. These guys doing the cooking are Mexican. The should know better.
Someone else did a recent report where they liked it, so maybe I got it on an off day, but quite frankly, at double the price of the the street vendors, it's unlikely I'd try it again.
I've also had a horrible food day and was hoping that this would turn things around ... I mean I had just abandoned a lunch elsewhere of a 'Chicago' hot dog on a stale bun with tastesless tomatoes and chopped Spanish onions and not a hint of sport pepper or relish ... I wanted something good ... this wasn't it.
Here's a more favorable opinon: